It can be quite a task to evaluate the expertise and experience of a wealth manager before you work with them. Even then, it can be challenging to discern if you're getting the advice and solutions you need to maximize and protect your wealth by your goals and objectives.

This challenge can be amplified when you do not know if you have problems or are missing opportunities. Say your estate plan proves to be inadequate. Considering the circumstances, you may not be directly adversely affected or even know about it. But your loved ones surely will be. Likewise, your asset protection plan can be determined to work only if you are in the unfortunate position of being taken to court. And if it does not work, it is too late by the time you know that fact.

We often hear from successful individuals and families that they are not exactly overjoyed with the help they are getting. To achieve your most important financial goals and objectives, one of the most important decisions you can make—often the most critical—is selecting and working with the right primary wealth manager.

To choose and work with a genuinely high-caliber wealth manager, assess all potential candidates in three key areas: 

  • Integrity

  • Competence

  • Experience

Integrity must be at the top of the list when sizing wealth managers. To protect or enhance the wealth you have created, a wealth manager must be scrupulously honest.

According to Lan Shaw, founder and principal, Vision Private Wealth, “A high-caliber wealth manager never employs services and products that are illegal or even the slightest bit unethical. Any tax strategy, for instance, must be a bright-line transaction. This means the strategy is designated way within the parameters set in the tax code.”

To size up a candidate’s integrity, consider several factors, such as:

  • Has the wealth manager run afoul of regulators? If so, what is the issue?

  • Have their clients sued them? If so, why?

  • Can they provide powerful references from other professionals and some clients?

The following two questions can prove instrumental in assessing integrity.

  • “Under what conditions would you fire a client?” If a prospect or client insists on taking legally questionable or illegal actions, the wealth manager should fire them.

  • “What will you NOT do? The objective of this question is for you to determine where the wealth manager set their limits. Those limits should be clearly on the right side of the legal and moral divide.

Competence is critical and can be segmented into two areas:

  • Technical competence includes investment management and wealth planning.

  • The ability to build strong relationships with others.

To achieve optimal results, your wealth manager must be adept in both proficiencies.

To evaluate a financial advisor’s level of technical competence, consider the person’s:

  • Educational background.

  • Professional licenses and designations.

  • Publications and speaking engagements.

Referrals from other professionals with whom you are working effectively are another way to access a wealth manager’s level of competence. Many times, these other professionals can effectively evaluate the financial advisor's expertise because of their fields of expertise.

By having even a rudimentary understanding of the depth and breadth of a wealth manager’s team, you will be better able to gauge their technical capabilities.

The ability to “connect” and communicate effectively with you is essential for a wealth manager to help you become and remain seriously wealthy. All the expertise in the world is pretty much useless unless it can be applied. The results will likely be far less than ideal without a solid rapport between you and the advisor.

Explaining wealth management recommendations and alternatives effectively is tied directly to the insights your wealth manager has of you. They need to present their solutions in a way that makes sense based on your technical sophistication and interest. While Wealth managers might be exceptionally technically proficient, failing to build and enhance rapport with their clients will usually result in nothing getting done--or business getting undone.

Experience is also essential.For your wealth manager to be able to help you manage and protect your wealth effectively, they must understand the goals, objectives, financials, and other critical characteristics of accomplished individuals and families that face the same problems, concerns, aspirations, and expectations. You must insist that your wealth manager possesses a track record of achievements working with people like you.

Successful entrepreneurs, for example, have some unique issues. Their working environment and financial affairs are entirely different from those of other accomplished individuals (such as corporate executives or celebrities). While wealth management applies to many types of successful and wealthy individuals and families, the world you live in requires you to work with professionals attuned to your specific issues, concerns, problems, and opportunities.

Experience means spending years working with clients like you and being knowledgeable and able to deliver state-of-the-art wealth management services and products adeptly. Knowing the experiences of a wealth manager working with individuals and families like yourself proves very insightful. It gives you perspective and helps you understand how the relationship will likely develop over years and even decades.

Russ Alan Prince is the executive director of Private Wealth and a strategist for family offices and the ultra-wealthy. He has co-authored 70 books in the field, including Making Smart Decisions: How Ultra-Wealthy Families Get Superior Wealth Planning Results.